Thursday, December 27, 2012

Post Christmas Celebration!

Our little family Christmas 2012
There are times in my life when I wonder , "What on earth am I doing? Why am I doing it?" Yes, I have had that thought many times in the past 30 years or so... However, when you get it right, you just relax and think, "Wow, it was all worth it!" If I hadn't been through my experiences or made the mistakes I had made, there is no way I could reap the rewards now. On that note, how was your Christmas?

My last blog was December first when we set up the Christmas tree. The kids were ready for the season, me, not so much, but I went along with it. We have fun food, music playing and decorate the tree. Sometimes Len comes in for it, sometimes he avoids it. The hope is always for fun, love and laughter and after a few battles, frustrating moments and complete anxiety ridden anger and annoyance, it all comes together. Thus, we set the tone for Christmas this year in our home.

The love of my life
Amidst a very active time when there was lots to do, I was incapacitated at times. As you may recall, from my Halloween blog, I fell and hurt myself out  in front of the house and until November did not realize how much damage I had done. It seems I must have torn either muscle or tendons in my back under my right shoulder blade when I fell. For the most part it was ok, a dull, aching pain most of the time. On baking days or busy town days though, the pain twisted into an excruciating twisted knot of hot burning muscle and there was no relief for me. This was exacerbated by hours of standing on my feet baking, making jellies and general household duties. I finally broke down about two weeks before Christmas and bought myself a pair of orthopaedic runners with extra inserts to support my flat feet, fallen arches and torn back. Yes, it helped. No, the problem is still there, but now I can cope much better and sometimes after a long day of baking, I can still sleep! Of course this made shopping/food/etc tough since we usually go to town once a week and after the two hour drive, night with almost no sleep, day of baking before market and sitting at the market from 9 am to 1pm, I was in so much pain and exhausted, I could barely stop to buy feed for the animals and food for the family. Made for some awkward cooking moments at home, time for much innovation and glad for my supplies on hand!

My baby and her best friend
getting ready for her first formal dance.
Yes she is in the dress we made.
Jess is on the left
In addition to my busy summer, company, active fall, preparing for Christmas, I also have ageing parents who have undergone a major life change. They moved from BC to Alberta in the matter of a few weeks. You can imagine the stress this put on them after almost 45 years in the same town and I assume you can estimate the amount of worry and emotion this put on my two brothers and I. It is very difficult and sad to watch your parents age, but also to watch as they begin to lose their health and not be able to help. I will be forever grateful to both my brothers, one in the old province, one in the new as I sat back and anxiously awaited updates and tried to at least help emotionally via the phone and computer. It did make for a troubled worrisome autumn.

Sweet baby, her last year
with her mom. Miss her
already. (Sometimes!)
As Christmas draws near there is always the worry that I won't be ready; I won't have enough: food, money, gifts, work, etc. This year was different. For some reason, the Christmas of 2012 took on a world of it's own. I didn't have the stress I did for the first two years here; I had less baking orders but felt more calm and peaceful about it; I believed that I was going to be able to make everyone's day happy and wonderful without breaking the bank, anxiety about the lack of family and worry about, well, just about anything. This year was going to be what I allowed it to be. 

I began to set the tone with the kids, they know that I will not be going into debt or buying things just for the sake of having stuff under the tree. They knew that my thought process and beliefs have changed about what is important. Yes, some people believe that anything is excess, however, I think that this is a time that we can come together, be grateful for what we have, where we live and enjoy our little family, all on our own. As well, my kids don't get much any more during the year, at least by Canadian society standards, so besides a few new things at the beginning of school, Christmas is when they get more new socks, underwear, mittens, toques and jeans/etc. So I do stay somewhat practical.

Assembly line baking!
Just a few of the items ordered.
The month prior was filled with work, stress - not over Christmas just busyness, school dances (Jess' first formal and the dress we made for her), Rachel looking for work, Len sick, really, knocked out for several days and it has taken him about two weeks to get his strength back, winter storms and power outages (27 hours = 2 days of baking when I had Christmas baking orders due) and me working to get 'er done! Of course the power outage was Dec 20+21st and I must say I was not the LEAST bit concerned about the end of the world on Dec 22. I figured, oh well, if it ends I don't have to bake!

We will get the Hobart
fixed but this little baby
AWESOME gift! This will
help tons with smaller
baking orders! LOVE!
I advertised baking for 3 months before Christmas and during the last week the orders came in. Less people but more product so I was a very busy little baker! Unfortunately my big restaurant sized ancient floor model Hobart mixer decided to go on vacation and quit working the week before Christmas, this definitely affected my production and assembly line baking!

In the end things came together, orders were a day late, but done. Kids finished school and even got a few snow days. Power came back on and it was nice to be forced to relax for a couple of days - Yahtzee by candlelight anyone? The animals just went to bed earlier, dark by 5pm and no late night lights for them. We went to bed by 9pm which made us realize why people used to go to bed early/up early... sunlight! Me? Well, I am good, my mental health seems better and I had a very enjoyable holiday with my family.

Christmas 2012, this is my oldest daughter's last year at home "technically living with us". Her plan is to move to Vancouver next October and go to school for a year. She will not be able to afford to fly back all the way across Canada for Christmas and she will be shared amongst family and friends in BC. We chose to have a small dinner, just the four of us and took time to sit and talk about our hopes, dreams, loves, losses and life's experiences. 

Christmas dinner,
Christmas crackers
Christmas LOVE
I know Christmas and other holidays are probably hard on my husband since none of his family is with us, I have at least my two girls. His father died on Christmas and that is always at the back of his mind. My girls lost their father 8 years ago, just before Christmas, so they can relate a little to what he feels. We pondered at the fact that so many losses are near holidays, birthdays or celebrations and for that reason we tend to focus, at least for a moment, on the loss whilst enjoying the present. We were very lucky to speak at length to almost everyone via phone or Skype on Christmas too. I think it must have been really lonely for the pioneers, never seeing or hearing from family again...

As I said at the beginning, I wonder sometimes, am I doing this right? Am I living my life right? Raising my children right? Being a wife and person right? I think, right now, that I am. Yes, I can improve, be healthier, be more self sufficient, but I am so different than who I was and I like me. I like who I have become. It's kind of nice at 46 and a half, to be able to say that.

I guess Kung Fu Panda said it best "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift and that's why we call it the present." From my family to yours, have a wonderful holiday season, take time to appreciate the simple things, let the drama go and move forward into this new year with peace, love, happiness and hope for our future. 


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Deck the halls with boughs of holly! Well fir, ok?

Len just relaxing at the market
Today is December 1st and in celebration of the reason for the season our little family will start the month with our annual tradition of decorating, eating, drinking, laughing, singing and following it all with a Christmas movie. Yes this will get us into the spirit! The kids have been begging me for the past week to decorate and put up the tree but I refused before December 1st. We just have too many other events in November and I just need one month at a time per event or celebration.

Birthdays DONE Christmas COMING. The best part of decorating for Christmas is the big clean before you set up and the big clean after. I refuse to decorate the interior of the house without scrubbing it up first and if the little lovely's want to decorate they also get to scour it up! Seems like a win/win situation to me! That means that in a half hour the TV is off, vacuum out, dust bunnies inhaled, laundry switched, toilet scrubbed, spiders vamoosed, dishes washed AND put away - voila! Time to decorate!

Almond Bark
Loads of almonds
white or milk chocolate
Snowman Soup
Any woman or child gets that this
is hot chocolate, men, not so much!
We like to do it up and have fun, so we prep appies and get the eggnog out for the kids, pour a drink for Len and a glass of wine for mom. I always know it is time because we have stocked the liquor cabinet, no we don't drink a lot but we do like to have a little supply on hand for guests and variety in our life. This week we stocked up on meats, cheeses, crackers, fun supper food and lots of delights that will surely make us wish we hadn't eaten so much by the end of the night.
Reindeer Poop
(Not real!)
Chocolatey Raspberry lumps
Snowman Poop
Need I say, Not REAL?
Mini marshmallows
Now that the house is cleaned it's time to sort through decorations, see what survived since last year, what the mice got into and recall memories as they flash through our minds - when we got that bulb, who made that item, where we were that year, etc... Jess and I like to sing along to the tunes except that I like the classics or the '80's songs and she tends to lean to Justin Bieber and One Direction's Christmas versions, oh well, music is music, right?

Some rustic decor
6 hours of drying
the house smelled GREAT!
This past week I created items for the farm market - decorations to sell but with my usual "wise" thoughts, I only create items that I will enjoy if/when they don't sell. I had lots of fun making cinnamon applesauce gingerbread men, dried apples and oranges and stringing them together into wreaths, candle holders, garland and tree decorations. They are pretty, smell great and are rustic and earthy. They look pretty at my market table and will possibly look REALLY pretty on my tree! AND if the "poop" doesn't sell then the kids get stocking stuffers! 

3 fruit cakes, 11 cups fruit/raisins
1.5 cups almonds
1 cup Captain Morgan Rum
 I also realize this is the last year that we will all be together. Next year Rachel will be living in Vancouver and won't be able to come home for Christmas. It will just be Len, Jess and I and as much as that girl can make us crazy or wind us up, we will miss her desperately! I hope I don't cry all day on Christmas 2013! Poor Jess, being the youngest, she gets to look forward to the next 7 years with just her old parents... maybe Rachel will make it home the following year. I do know that my family and friends will take care of her and include her next year ....
She's moving out!
My lovely 11 year old

From our family to yours, have a MERRY CHRISTMAS! Enjoy the season, spend time not just money and cherish each moment... even when you feel nuts!

Me and my girls on Jess' birthday
8 years since our last photo shoot
minimal photo shop

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Christmases past...

As I write this post,  I think of my parents, who I love very much. I think of all they have done for me during my life, the experiences I have had, the opportunities offered to me. I recall the first 10 or so years of my life, in a home that I thought we would live in forever. 

I reflect on my ingratitude at going camping, fishing or boating almost every weekend. The lack of appreciation for time spent with my family, good food straight from the sea, forest, nature. 

My father was big and strong, so tall and he could do anything. He could go hunting with my brothers and bring down a deer for our winter food. He would take us fishing on his brand new sail boat, trolling for salmon, crab fishing, catching perch on remote docks with my brothers. I remember a time when we could camp on any island, fish, hunt, collect berries in the forest that Mom would then bake into a pie in our camper with the full oven. Ever had huckleberry pie?

The nights playing Uno at the table in the camper or Yahtzee. Sitting by a camp fire with the  OFF old mosquito coil's burning, fire going, Dad eating raw or barely baked oysters right off the shell. Clam chowder made with the clams we picked from the beach that day, little bits of sand and everything.

Mom handing over bags of marshmallows for us kids, me and my two brothers to eat in copious amounts until we felt sick. Crates of Pic-a-Pop taken on our trip. Mom's homemade bread (how I craved store bread like my friends got to eat!) next to a pot of stew or more likely a big fat steak, the way Dad liked it.

Weekends of going to Naesgard's U Pick strawberry fields and eating our fill until we couldn't manage to swallow any more, then heading up to pay with our barely filled buckets, while Mom had enough berries for strawberry shortcake and jam for the rest of the year. We would head home, Dad would light up the BBQ, enormous well cut steaks grilling with lots of salt and pepper, giant baked potatoes with loads of sour cream and real butter, followed by the promised strawberry shortcake. My mouth waters now just thinking about it.

Days of fresh prawn feasts. Mom would make a quilt for a neighbour who had a husband who was a prawn fisherman and once a year it seemed we would get boxes of fresh prawns. Mom would deep fry them and we would eat nothing but fresh prawns for dinner. Mom would use a beer batter recipe but because she didn't drink beer we used 7-Up. I remember the flavour, prawns don't taste like that any more, fresh, pure, local, melt in your mouth .... amazing! Dad would come home with crab traps filled with  crabs and I would complain, "Oh no! Not crab AGAIN!" What a silly child I was!

We would eat so much fresh caught salmon, same day fresh that after I was 11 years old I don't think I ate salmon or crab for at least ten years, too full, over indulgence. I say over indulgence, but nothing went to waste. We ate it all and had no clue how much others paid for these treats in the store.

I recall late nights of listening to the sewing machine rattle and turn as Mom stayed up late sewing us our Christmas gifts. New dresses for me, shirts for the boys. She could make anything! We got new knitted scraves, toques and mittens with the string to hold them in our coats. 

She was so gifted and skilled, she made toys that were as good or better than those from the store. (That is saying a lot too since not everything was made in China in the early 1970's, toys were still made in North America.) Mom always felt   bad that we didn't have all the store bought toys that some of our friends had, we probably did too, but I remember getting the new hand made quilt, doll, dresses and a bag of candy and an orange in the foot of my Christmas stocking.

Santa always had a store bought gift, well not from the store, but the elves had hand crafted it and it came in a store package. Santa never forgot us. No matter how hard the year was, how many months Dad had been laid off work, locked out or on strike, Santa always came and brought us something we had really wanted. The biggest gift at the front of the tree in the largest box with the brightest wrapping was from Santa and somehow, he always got it right! A BB gun for Owen, an Easy Bake Oven for Sarah and a remote control car for Chad. We never went without, we were always happy and most Christmas' we spent alone with just the five of us. 

There were years we travelled on Christmas afternoon about an hour and a half away through the snow or rain to visit family in Nanaimo and share the meal with them, but we virtually never,  (with the rare exception of being in Alberta for Christmas) spent Christmas morning anywhere but in our house.

The old Bing Crosby Christmas carols would be playing, Mom had something baking in the oven to eat hot and fresh, we had a variety of meats, cheese, crackers, nuts, oranges and a giant punch bowl of home made egg nog. I would sing, loudly, often out of tune and Dad would say "Toot, are you going to sing all day?" as I smiled and said "YES!" and he would often join in with me. Dad had a very nice singing voice when he was young.

Mom was in her element, surrounded by her family, us happily playing, her preparing a 30lb turkey for us with all the trimmings, stuffing made with her special spices and turkey liver and onions, at least three types of vegetables, smashed potatoes swimming in butter and topped with paprika, gravy glistening with the slick grease on top from the turkey fat and juice and us, all in heaven. 

Inevitably someone would get upset, cry, fight, Dad yell, send us to our rooms and Mom sigh, however, this passed fairly quickly and things would settle down again. How could we not be distressed and tired? We never fell asleep before midnight, straining to listen to Santa arrive and we were always awake by 5 AM although not allowed to get up until 6:30 AM and we could only open our stockings until Dad had stoked the fire, Mom started coffee and we were all assembled, in our places, space around us to stack gifts and then let loose! 

First, we would read the Christmas story from the Bible while we munched on chocolate and consumed items from our stocking and finally by 7:00 AM we would open presents and the frenzy began! Dad always read the names and handed out gifts and we were surrounded by packages and wrapping and squeals of excitement and the occasional sound of disappointment or faked enthusiasm as we opened that package of underwear and socks for the next year. 20 minutes later it was all over.

Now that my parents are ageing, live six provinces and 5,000 km away from me, resettling in a new home, new life after almost 45 years in the same community, I think of them and their history. I thank them for the years of being there for me and my siblings, for their sacrifices, dedication and love. I appreciate and cherish the memories of the years when I had no clue they were suffering financially or emotionally, when I always had all that I needed or wanted. I am overwhelmed at what they offered me, even though I was a child that thought this was all normal, I am amazed at the life they gave me.

Life has changed, they are older, sicker, less in control, not big and strong any longer but they are always my Mom and Dad. As I reminisce the words thank you aren't enough to express my emotions. Life changed as I became a teen and we moved away and our family grew, no one can ever foresee the future and we do the best we can. 

Mom, Dad, Owen, Chad, we lived, we loved, we shared, we played, we had lots, we had little and we always had each other. This isn't what I planned to write today but the memories flooded my mind too much and being a parent now, I know how hard life was for them. I am now older than they were then and as I look forward into my future, I hope that my children have some of the same fond memories that I had.

So many things have changed, roles have reversed, children starting to become "the parents", parents starting to "become more like the children" or at least we feel that way sometimes. As life gets shorter I think there is all the more reason for us to remember what was, what we had and how we were loved. It is too easy to get caught up in the moment, what is happening today or things that happened in the past that we wish hadn't occurred and forget, that like we do now in our parenting, our parents did their best then and only ever wanted us to be happy.

As November starts to draw to a close and Christmas shopping is well under way, with the harried shoppers and stressed out parents, think about what your child will really remember in the future... Will they remember when they are almost 50 years old the latest toy or electronic equipment? Or will they remember how you made them feel, the love they were surrounded with and their family? Have a great day!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Post Apoplectic Halloween

If there is one thing I do know, I will always screw up when it comes to changing my clocks. I just about always forget and I do think that is why we do this on the weekend not during the week. This morning the alarm rang as it does every Sunday morning at 8 AM. I go upstairs wake up Jess to go to church, she asks for ten more minutes, I leave the phone next to her head, walk back downstairs, crawl back into my warm bed and cuddle up to Len for a few more  minutes of sleep. The alarm rings, again, I reach over, call Jess on the intercom and she begs for more sleep, after doing this one more time at another ten minute interval, she says, no, she will stay home today. I don't push it, I don't go to the church and it is her option at almost 11 years old whether she wants to or not. So, I call the neighbour, her Sunday School teacher at about 8:25 AM and tell her Jess is not going. I then roll over, to try to grab a few more minutes of sleep, I like to stay in bed until 9 AM on Sunday. Of course then Jess does get up and crawls into bed with me to cuddle since Len has now left  with the alarm ringing three times and me up and down to wake the girl up. After about ten minutes my back is sore and I decide, I may as well just get up. (Do you want to know why my back was sore? Please, continue to read!)
My morning routine consists of a walk into the kitchen, turn on the old laptop to check out what is happening in the world since I went to bed 7 hours ago, turn on the coffee, head to the bathroom, back to the kitchen, hit the next button to finish loading the laptop, get my coffee, add milk, place my cup next to my arm chair by the wood stove, get the laptop from the table, sit on my bum, click the Facebook icon, sip my coffee and see, first status update "Don't forget to turn your clocks back an hour!" I then look at the clock on the stove which says 8:50 AM and glance to the right hand corner of my computer screen 7:50 AM and laugh. Yes, did it again! Never fails! Of course since I tend to run on the late side of life, sliding into places as they have just started, to be running an hour ahead for a change is a novelty! 

Of course by now Jess is up, on the other laptop, loading up music to practice singing the song she wants to learn for the talent show and I call to her to let her know my faux pas! "Jess, guess what?" I say. "What Mom?" she responds. "Are you still interested in going to church today?" I ask. Her, "Yes, but now it's too late, Louise would have left." Me, "Well, here's the funny thing, I forgot to change the clock! Poor Louise, I woke her up extra early on Sunday, I am sure she is VERY impressed with me right now! It is actually only 7:50 AM NOT 8:50 AM and if you want to go, you can...." I laugh a little self consciously... Jess, now that she is awake, does want to go... so for once, messing up on the "turn back time" was in our favour! Dear Louise, I AM SO SORRY to wake you up early!

Since today's blog seems to be about my misadventures, I must share the fun I had on Halloween day. Yes the spirits were lined up against me and mocking me, although my friend says it was just because Mars was in retrograde, but I figure the combination made for a discouraging disastrous day for me.

Daytime Blue Bunny?
Night time - gangsta!
 Ten days before Halloween I had been given an Amish Cinnamon Bread starter - this consists of milk, flour, and a variety of other baking products that sit and ferment in a plastic one gallon ziploc bag. Now, I am going to premise this essay about the bread with the following assumptions I am making about the Amish people 1) they probably don't use plastic ziploc bags 2) it is also doubtful that they use boxes of vanilla pudding in their mixes 3) and they are probably calm and peaceful while baking up the mess IE: do not swear, curse and throw things in the compost bucket in disgust 4) absolutely MUST laugh because we call it Amish bread! I would also like to apologize to the Amish for a) making idle frustrated threats and b) using the lord's name in vain!

So the theory behind the starter mix is you get one bag, you mush it daily for 5 days, on day 6 you add more ingredients to promote further "growth", you then mush again daily until day 10 when you add even MORE ingredients, then you divide it up into another 4 bags, keep one to bake that day and give the rest away. Something like that... Anyway, two days before the mixture was due to be baked up, I woke up in the morning to find a bag had exploded on my side table and seeped under my fridge. Yes, a nice bag of mixture growing on my floor under the fridge, you can imagine how fun that was to clean up! ICK!

As if that was not enough the day that I was to mix it all up (yes, enter Halloween!) The first bag spilled on the floor, clean up, not so bad... Then bag two, well, I have a container of sugar and a container of gluten free bread flours , yes the containers match, no I didn't look first, just scooped it in .... yuck, waste of expensive flour and wrecked my batter, but then I thought there is still hope for this... until, yes, you guessed it, I look and notice the bag has slipped sideways and the yucky gluten free mix of starter was seeping down my counter and cupboards... bag number two for the compost!

Two bags left... now what to do? Well, I am now almost out of milk and oil so that doesn't help... I only have one box of the famous Amish vanilla pudding and not sure what to do... so... I combined things, added, mixed, mashed and came out with a double batch of bread and yes, four new starter bags... So far so good, the loaves were a success, finally, and I had starter for next time.

Since things are improving and I am now on a roll, maybe I should make my first ever attempt at donuts? Wouldn't the kids enjoy hot, steaming, sugary donuts when they got off the bus? MMM! I know I would. Of course we are now at 3:30 PM so I better start coffee for Rachel and I and get those donuts going and ...zap! Apparently the deep fryer and coffee pot on the same circuit = no power! Donuts are off!

OK let's try to make sense of the rest of my day and get it right. Move coffee pot to another circuit, then have a quick shower before the kids come home. We have been invited for drinks after Halloween'ing at a friends and I may as well clean up. So, I shower, get dressed decently to leave the house and start to prep dinner. The kids get home and I sent Jess out to get Len because we are going to have dinner early, mmm home made lasagne, that's a good food base before junk from All  Hallow's Eve!

Well, Jess and Len start to visit, so it appears that I have to go get him. I walk outside into my porch, put on my rooster boots, tuck my pant legs in and then go outside, first I place my right hand on the door knob, twist, then my left foot lands on the front step and as my right foot follows, I slip, slide, crash, head bangs onto the small deck, bounces off the ground, right arm slides underneath me as  I push the planter pots away and the decorative pallet with Halloween surprises lands on my head. Just writing this I can feel it again, my right knee slid, road rash, arm twisted and face on the pavement, my eyes centimetres away from a wet pile of chicken crap, my teeth scraping each other and grinding in my mouth. I tried to call out for help, everyone was busy, too far away and I was hurting and couldn't call out loudly. I whimpered, yes, it's true, I tried to cry but it took too much energy and as I lay there, looking at shit, literally, I had to wonder what spirit did I piss off today?

I managed to twist, turn and pull myself up, not happy or in good cheer and limp out to Len's new building, afraid to walk on his wet deck and fall again I yelled into the building and Jess opened the door, I winged and whined, told them what happened and then carried my now bruised and battered body away, knowing I was sure to look like a giant piece of candy corn the next day. Happy Halloween? 

I was glad to see November enter my life! (NB: I did not get bruises, but did get some swollen and sore back muscles that are just now starting to go away...)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Almost 4 months, time to write again...

Pictures on Mom's last day
(note the chickens on the left)
It is a chilly morning, October 18th and almost four months since I have written anything on my blog. Some people have asked, what's up? You've been quiet! Others, who have me on FaceBook, say, you make way too many status updates! Well, however you see it, I am BACK! 

Hartland Bridge -
The World's Longest Covered Bridge
One of our "touristy" days
Initially I quit writing because it was our high season for work and farming. More people around, more business, more baking, more cooking, more cleaning, more chickens, more everything... The end of school is always a busy time with kids too and so there was no way I could keep up and write, not too mention the fact that I was to exhausted for most of the summer to even think straight.

My 'other' daughter and I
resting after cooking
(Note the chicken) 
Now, summer is over, we are well into October, the leaves have changed once again and the air is crisp and brisk. I need to keep the fire lit and house warm and start to plan for the long cold season. You would think that since there is more time, less stress, I would be writing a lot, but I discovered something, I don't know if I have anything left to say, or that might actually interest anyone... I did discover though, that in quiet  times, when not working, I don't really have much to say. I mean, how much can I discuss the humidity that affected the rise of today's bread? Who is really interested in hearing that today we only got 57 eggs but yesterday we got 92? Pretty important facts to us, but to others... maybe not so interesting...
Must stop - on the way to Fredericton
World's Largest Axe
Touristy trip to Nackawic
This summer the coffee shop was open full time, 9am to 9pm most days plus Fridays in town for the farm market, an increase in customers and special orders and just busy, busy, busy. Not to mention the fact that most mornings I was up between 6 and 7 am to bake fresh product for the shop. 

On top of these 12 hour day 7 days a week schedule, we had company, for almost 7 weeks if you add it all together. We ran out of water in the well, twice, lots of packing water required and not more than a few minutes at a time to sit and visit. It was a dry summer in New Brunswick and we did spend quite a bit of time at the lake, thank you Sandy Beach, you were a lifesaver!

My three girls
My feeble attempt at meat birds
Had to give them away, not set up right
Had hoped for one in my freezer :(
I say company, but that is not true, we had family, people we know and love and who understood (I think) that although they were on vacation, we weren't. My mom and nephew (age 6) spent almost 5 weeks with us. During that time a dear old friend and childhood friend of Jess' came for a few days (we wish it could have been longer, but I think hours of sitting and peeling hard boiled eggs and washing a 100 eggs at a time, might have driven them away.) In September, my German daughter came to stay with us. She is sweet and beautiful and was a homestay student with us about 6 years or so ago and she has been wonderful to come and see us several times. I do believe she found it a bit insane with quiet and no activity for a day or two, but then she seemed to adjust and made a little photo/recipe cookbook of what we did together. (You see, I still had to bake, cook, preserve/can, etc...)

We went to "The City"
Forest City, NB
Population 12?
Actually taking time to play
East Grand Lake
I do think that EVERYONE who came underwent a culture shock. They realized that when we say we live in a remote area, that we really mean we live in a remote area. There are NO stores, shops, buses, quick places to go from here. The very nearest is about 20 minutes across the border, 30 minutes to Canterbury where the kids go to school or almost an hour from here to Woodstock - and allowing time for all of the road construction that our country byways endured all summer.

NB Idol 1st PlaceMarina Jay
A Golden Day
I almost forgot to mention the Second Annual Golden Unicorn Arts Festival - held on Aug 19th was a huge success! We had 30% more artisans and lots more people visiting! Live music all day and an overall fabulous day! I was certainly grateful mom was there that day to help out, we were run off of our feet!

Old display at market
New display at market
Sample box of goodies
Yes, to say that it was quiet out here was a misnomer, to say that we are rural is true, but to say we are extremely rural, well, that hits the mark much more clearly. Our company/family, discovered that, we did not just run to the store or to tourist attractions, anywhere of any consequence was at least 1.5 hours one direction away. Nothing was a little trip. I bought a van thinking I would save a little fuel and have room more comfortably to transport everyone, but of course that was a complete waste of time and money. Can you say , lemon? Buddy is back on the road and transporting us around. (Len was kind and only said "I told you so" about a dozen times.) 

Little world traveler
We did however, have several fun trips to Fredericton to pick up and drop off people at the airport and made sure that we shared the highlights with them on the way. Touristy? Not so much, but we managed to take enough pictures to make it look like they had fun and got to go places! I am posting a few pictures in this blog to share the experiences we managed to cram in during the summer amidst my full time work, Rachel working full time, tons of visitors, lots of customers and oh yeah 100+ chickens running around and watching bears eat all of the apples off of my tree.... (I will say there was one evening we had about 6 customers, standing outside the back of the house, watching a huge mama bear steal all of the apples from my tree. Lots of fun and video's!)

Graduation 2013!
We are now well into the beginning of school, kids settled in, back on a regular schedule, up at 6:30 AM still, yes, however, most days if I want I can crawl back under the warm covers for an hour after the girls get on the bus. Of course it is Grade 12 and graduation year for Rachel, so lots of planning for prom, college, moving back to BC - yes that is where she is going and wondering, have I done my job well as her mom? Will she be OK  Only time will tell... besides, it might be nice next year to only have one girl at home, my 11 year old Jessica, I mean, who can she fight with in the mornings if her sister is gone? Right?

Yes, it is a cold October morning, my fire has gone out, time to relight it and begin my baking for tomorrow's farm market.... First, time for my second cup of freshly ground, organic, fair trade coffee... I do look forward to slower cooler days.... Welcome back, eh? 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

From Fiddleheads To Drive In Theatres...

Once again it has been a few weeks since I have posted a blog. Life has been busy and I managed to get some extra work in which is great. New Brunswick held the municipal elections this month and in order to encourage youth to be involved in the voting process they contacted schools to ask any kids who wanted to work the polls to apply for positions. Rachel applied and was offered three days work. While speaking with them they offered me three days as well and Len one day work. So, although we didn't even have anyone to vote for, it was lucrative for our little family. (Boring but lucrative!)

Rachel and I were at the same polling station so we were able to drive together. It was kind of fun, not hard work at all once we figured out what we were doing and it gave us time to get to know some of the people in the community as well as have time to chat and hang out together. The biggest thing was making sure we had something to do and enough food. We were at the polls for 12 hours a day for 3 days as well as the 1/2 hour ride each way. So we shopped and got meals, snacks, fruit, veggies, chocolate, coffee - all the staples to survive. I brought my laptop so that I could write and a book to read and Rachel brought homework to plug away at.

We quickly found out there was no way I could write or read due to all the chatter in the room. (I brought a different book the next time, lighter read and that was ok, but anything deep or involved was too tough.) Rachel couldn't do any homework the first day, but the second day she brought her Ipod and was able to drown out the background noise. On the two advance poll days we had a total of 46 people come in over a 20 hour time period, so it left plenty of time for idleness. 

I would do it again, it was easy, good money, nice people to spend the day with and I just need to find something that I can do easily while dealing with background activity and the occasional interruption. I definitely learned a lot about the community, heard interesting gossip, heard stuff I could have lived without and had a few laughs with my girl. We are now just waiting for the money to come pouring in!

The next few weeks were occupied with attending a trade show, pickling fiddleheads, picking rhubarb and setting up and opening the coffee shop on weekends.

I realized recently that I have become rather anti social. I used to be social animal, no free time, always on the phone, visiting, doing something or going somewhere. No longer. I now talk to maybe a few people a week and don't mind. For someone who can talk incessantly about nothing (yes, Jessica comes by it honestly) I can now go long periods of time without speaking. My mind has gone blank, no poetry, idle chit chat or much of interest to say. I don't mind but Rachel thinks I have become too quiet and a bit boring. I don't think she means it in a critical way but more in a concerned way. She knows how I used to thrive on social events and now, nah, can't be bothered half the time.

So yesterday, when Anita called to invite Jess and me to the "drive in movie", instead of thinking about why I should decline or what else I should be doing, or how I should not spend any money, I said "YES!" No, drive in movie theatres are not still running around here, but a group raising money for the Relay For Life event sponsored a one off and we were there!

First, how to explain to our kids about the whole concept. Sitting outside, in the truck bed, under the stars watching a movie up on a screen while in a parking lot. The movie can't even begin until 10pm when it is dark enough. Second, telling Jess about the movie we would see "Back to the Future" - yes he travels back in time and his actions affect the future. So, I thought, I will pull up a movie trailer on the internet to show her. Well this works great with current movies, but remember this, in 1985 we didn't have computers let alone the internet. Movie trailers were 30 seconds long and watched on TV. We did pull up the commercial although it was of little help to understand the plot. Oh well, go "old school" and figure it out as you go along.

Anita's men came and took the cap off the truck box and my girls swept it out (it was a bit "farmy"). We picked up the Leeman's and squished in the truck for the drive. As we approached Woodstock we could hear the kids excitement building and we got a pretty psyched ourselves. The fundraiser sold 50 tickets for vehicles with a maximum of 6 people per vehicle. We pulled in, backed up and got our "living room" set up for the tail gate party. (Yes a few brews would have been nice but Anita's boss was a prime sponsor and we were in public, so Pepsi and coffee were our beverage of choice.)

The kids were highly anticipating the event. There was not a single argument or fight all night and for our kids, this was monumental! The bugs and black flies were held at bay by the breeze. The night was clear and stars illuminated the sky and with the exception of not quite enough blankets (the temperature dropped from 24 to about 5 Celsius) we had a BLAST! It was truly fun in a way that I don't think we get much any more. It was simple, not overblown prices, for a good cause and the universe was on our side.

It did take me back to simpler times. No, I don't remember going to drive in's much, although I did go with my parents, in my jammies, cuddled up in the back seat and falling asleep. I do remember the last time I went, circa 1974, we saw a re-run of True Grit with John Wayne followed by Blazing Saddles. I remember staying for True Grit but leaving when Blazing Saddles came on since it was too risque for us kids and the language and content were not family appropriate. What a far cry from TV or movies we see today! Not long after that, a couple of years maybe, the drive in theatre closed down in our town.

It was a great night and the kids were amazing. They were so animated yet easily pleased with the simplicity. Our evening started with leaving the house just past 7pm and arriving home by 1am. It was a long night and a few kids were asleep in the back seat but Jess and Brittney stayed awake, they were not about to miss a thing!

Always thinking, Anita came up with  the idea that we host something like this during the summer of 2012 in our neighbourhood. I am in! Of course we thought a double feature maybe? A movie for the kids and then send them home and watch a chick flick or more "adult movie".... mmmm we may have to reconsider the details!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Have you EVER thought about getting a REAL job?

OK so the title says it all... NOPE! Haven't! Thanks! I kind of figure being home for my kids, helping them for 1-4 hours a night with homework, ensuring they have healthy well balanced meals, getting involved with 4-H so they have an opportunity to be part of the community, working part time, running a little "hobby" farm .. (Don't get me started on the word Hobby!) ... is kind of LIKE a real job!

OK back up Sarah! Who do you think you are anyway? Well, let me tell you! I have worked outside of the home. I successfully advanced in the field I chose. I have run my own business. I have worked with children - in a daycare no less! I have commuted for work. I have been unemployed.I have dedicated thousands of hours to my parent advisory council at the school and I have been a stay at home mom. My thoughts? Every one of those options involved me working. 
I started my working life at 11 babysitting, moved up to house cleaning, medical office cleaning, two weeks of hell cooking at A&W, more babysitting, two weeks of hell as a chamber maid in Banff, Alberta, live in Nanny aka crash test dummy in Calgary, three months McDonald's late night drive through, part time office staff in an insurance office (highlight was never getting paid after three months) and finally a real "adult" job working as a Financial Assistance Worker in the government Social Services Department. 

I started working in social services at age 21, rather naive and incredibly shy. However after years of the job, having clients scam me left and right because I was so gullible and working in Downtown East Side Vancouver, to Kitsilano to Steveston near Richmond to Kamloops, BC and all the way back to Nanaimo , Duncan and Victoria... I did grow up. I grew up enough to realize I had a good job, great pay, amazing benefits and I realized I could have some kids that I could actually support. 

Of course none of us know what will happen in our lives. I really thought I would stay in government forever. Yet life seemed to have different plans for me. So after working from May 1988 to February 2004 - with a few leaves during the time... I ended my (I can say it now!) cushy job with pay that has never been equalled and medical and dental to die for. Yes I worked hard there and it was emotionally taxing at times - but 8 years later I have never seen or done anything that equalled the security of that position.

Of course opening a wedding planning and coordination business seemed like a great idea and it was lots of fun. Five long years of plugging away and earning relatively nothing in the winter and working like a crazy woman in the summers did take it's toll on me and the girls. It didn't help that during this time I became a 38 year old widow and single mother of two girls age 3 and 10 with severe obstacles to overcome. 

I look back now and have to wonder how we survived. God was definitely on our side, watching over us and helping us struggle along. I of course made very wise decisions like selling Partylite, Love the stuff! (Not a great choice when you have to decide to spend the last $10 on food or fuel for the car though!) Having said that, nothing like kicking back with a glass of wine and beautifully scented candle burning (we needed the candle to cook the marshmallows!) $14,000 per year for a family of 3 in an $800 townhouse, made for very creative accounting and lots of borrowing from family and good friends that I am proud to say I paid back.

So, since event planning was not enough to survive and Partylite was great for spending not so much earning, I had to find an alternative. I never expected to get a call one day, mid July 2005 to ask me to come work at the Deputy Minister's office in Victoria as an assistant to the Customer Service Manager. (Yes, customer service in social services sounds like an oxymoron, but it was a pretty cool job!) I was stunned this opportunity came right out of the blue and it was very exciting. What was wrong with it? 2.5 hour commute each way to work in a van pool for about $400 per month. (Total of about 12 -13 hours a day away from home.) I needed to hire a nanny to take care of my kids - yup that spelled disaster. First nanny also helped someone else, my kids were not allowed in the house and they were barely cared for. (Suffice it to say that when my baby who had just learned to walk again after critical injuries was falling down the stairs - I knew changes were necessary) and so 4 weeks ended that employee's term. Second nanny, appeared helpful and wonderful until she asked weekly for pay advances, didn't feed the kids and finally after 3 months ended up stealing $2000 from me. Not such a great single mom working experience.

I could go on incessantly, however, Have I EVER thought about getting a real job? Hell ya! Here? NOPE! It is simply not worth it to me to take  job that pays starting wages of $10 and tops out at about $11 hour, work 30-40 hours a week, drive 1-2 hours a day, spend $300 of those earnings on fuel and still have to do all that needs to be done at home. 

I am going to stick with my 2 days a week home maker job, 2 days a week baking/market and seasonal summer time coffee shop. No medical or dental coverage. No extra money, but the peace of mind knowing that I have dedicated my time to my children to help them with homework, learning to cook (should they choose to take the opportunity) and spending quality time with my husband and family. As Mastercard says "PRICELESS". 

So, now that I have been called farm girl and Betty Crocker (which are actually pretty good compliments!) and hopefully explain clearly that I am NOT lazy or refusing to work, simply have different priorities and I know there are no naked starving people living in my house - I shall continue to lead my crazy little farm life. I will continue to know that I have the freedom to take my girls to appointments, help them with homework, yell at them as required and just be a "stay at home mom".  FINALLY if it is not clear, I AM A WORKING MOM! The day I sit on the sofa all day eating bon bons, pulling a Peg Bundy watching soap operas and not taking care of my family - feel free to say I don't work.

Kudos to you working moms! All of you! Staying at home and working outside the home - both are important, exhausting and can really make you say "CALGON take me away!"

Saturday, April 7, 2012

One a penny, Two a penny, Hot Cross Buns!

I will always miss family most as a holiday weekend encroaches upon us. I loved gathering together, planning the big meal or going to share it with who ever was in charge of it that year. (I did prefer doing it myself since I would start on the wine as I cooked and by the time the meal started I was happy, happy, happy!) The memories of Len, the girls and I, contemplating who would do what this year, various reactions from family members, who would say or do the most memorable thing and praying that the meal would turn out. Those were the things that made an impact or the event one we would discuss, mourn or laugh about for years to come.

Several years ago, a cousin I hadn't seen for aeons, was on Vancouver Island from High Level, Alberta and she and her husband were joining us for Thanksgiving dinner. I invited any and all family from the area who might want to join us, including my parents of course. Everyone gathered, enjoyed our visit, had a fabulous meal if I do say so myself and then I served dessert. I had baked pumpkin pies, apple pies and apple crisp. I was excited to offer an array of choices and several people had a little bit of each on their plates. I cut and served and was still slicing up while my guests were starting in on their pie.

It seemed the table was a bit quiet and my first thought was, "always a good sign when the table is quiet and people enjoy their food." I then bit into my pie, mmm the pumpkin was amazing! Then I bit the pastry, I literally gagged and spit my food back into my dish. I looked at everyone and said "This is disgusting! How can you people eat it?" Being kind, they said, in a variety of ways, "oh, it's just a bit salty", "I thought the pudding part was wonderful", "Well..." I know everyone was relieved when I told them I would NOT let them finish the pies and removed their plates. We then split the one apple crisp into pieces and had coffee to attempt to wash away the horrendous flavour of my pie crust that somehow contained way too much baking soda! EW!

No holiday or pie can ever be eaten again without my family commenting on that memorable meal or complimenting me on my immense improvement of my culinary and pastry skills! Family meals at holiday times, yes I miss them, salty pie? Not so much!

I am working hard in my "new" life to do things in a way that are more eco friendly and put less stress on my environment. Hence our Easter egg decorating fiasco. I continue to read blogs about how to dye eggs the natural way and see Facebook posts that explain how to make your natural dyes from things like onion skins, blackberry or beet juice and spices such as Tumeric. So, I set off to show my girls how to be more environmental while continuing on with a long standing egg decorating tradition.

I decided that since we had to boil eggs, (I had saved some so they would peel better and weren't too fresh  - the gases around slightly older eggs allow for easier peeling.) I had found a recipe on a blog, 2 cups water, 1 Tbsp vinegar, 1 cup of the fruit or vegetable juice, cook for 45 minutes, cool, put your boiled eggs in the water for a half hour. So I proceeded to boil up some mango dye and some blackberry dye. The kids couldn't quite get where I was going with this thought. I boiled a dozen green Araucana eggs.

I put everything on the table and started peeling eggs. My girls, 10 and 17, asked me what on Earth was I doing? I said, dying the eggs, the natural way. I then plopped 2 peeled eggs into the mango dye and 2 peeled eggs into the blackberry dye. The girls said, "now what?" I said, "Every few minutes roll them over and in a half hour they are done, cool, eh?" They asked, "How do we decorate them?" Me, "Well, you ... don't...?" Them, "Ya, mom, THAT's fun!" Me, "What???"

Stock Photo, Can't take credit!
OK so apparently, like chemical dyes, when dying Easter eggs the environmentally friendly way, you DON'T peel them! You DON'T use green shells when you want the dye to stick! You do leave them in the shell and dye then decorate, duh? OK so apparently (I did re-read the blog) they did NOT explain this... I don't know! Dumb and Dumber: Dye Easter Eggs in Fosterville... Starring "Sarah Sherman!" Quite the laugh! I boiled MORE eggs and we went to Len's shop to get some real paint so they could at least TRY to create the traditionally dyed Easter egg! (Not one of my brainier moments... Yes, this will be up there with my salt pie and discussed and teased about for YEARS to come!)

Since Good Friday was a holiday the local Woodstock Farm Market was open so I had to bake for Thursday market instead of Friday. This year, I must say, (patting myself on the back) that I believe I perfected the Hot Cross Bun! I made a triple batch and sold out! Now I have to make some for our Easter dinner! Market was good for a Thursday and the weather has been quite nice albeit a bit cold at night. Today however, they are calling for snow over night so I am not too sure how tomorrow will fare.
Can you say YUMMY?

The plan for Easter Sunday? Church breakfast at 8:30am (we will see, it's a bit early), Easter service at 10am and then home for Easter egg hunt and treats followed by a traditional Easter Chicken (passed on frozen turkey and bought a fresh chicken) with all the trimmings including gingerbread cake, hot cross buns and our creepy decorated eggs (those may be passed on as well!) 

Yes our little family, continuing on with new traditions. Rachel only has one more Easter before she officially moves out and may or may not come home for every holiday. It is too strange to think about not having my children with me for every holiday meal.... So, as Scarlett O'Hara says "I will think about that tomorrow, for tomorrow is another day."

Happy Easter everyone! AND special thoughts and Easter wishes go out to my family in Coalhurst, Alberta, who lost their father, my uncle, yesterday morning after a brief battle with illness. I am thinking of my Aunt Agnes, Cousins Barb, Donna, Doug and Leah and their families and wishing you all beloved memories during this difficult time. 

Thinking about their loss makes me wonder, when will I see my parents again? Will I be with them when it is their time? Will I have many more years to tell them I love them? Even though every family event held a little bit of crazy, a pinch of bizarre and a dollop of drama... It was a recipe that created an armful of love and beautiful memories.

We spent many summer holidays, with our camper parked in my uncle's yard, as we made the obligatory family visits across the city and province. I always felt welcomed by my Aunt Agnes and Uncle Curt and their kids. My older cousin Doug would tease me mercilessly, but I always liked it. Cousin Leah who was older and more worldly would show me the ropes as I looked on in awe. Donna and Barbra were often busy with boyfriends and then husbands and children but I always felt close to them and found them to be so much older and wiser than me.

Many an extended family gathering with all of my aunts and uncles was held in their home and it is where we all gathered to commiserate after our beloved Grandma Giesbrecht passed away. Dad, Uncle Bill, Uncle Dave, Uncle Abe, Uncle Peter, Aunt Annie, Aunt Eva and of course, Aunt Agnes and their husbands and children - we all knew we could go to Aunt Agnes . 

Those were my formative years and although our families grew older, drifted our own ways and had less contact, they were my wonder years. Aunt Agnes, my cousins, your family home holds warm memories in my heart. God Bless You All and I wish Uncle Curt peace and no pain as he moves along his journey.
One of the last photos of my Grandma and her surviving children.
From left to right:
Aunt Agnes, Dad, Uncle Peter, Uncle Abe, Aunt Eva
and in front, Grandma Giesbrecht
Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of Uncle Curt
PS: Not sure that Aunt Agnes will be happy with me, so don't tell her I posted this!